Monday, February 29, 2016

Like Old Friends - Death Cab For Cutie in Manila 2012

This story first came out in The Manila Times in March 2012. The original version has since disappeared from the web, which is why I'm reposting it here.

Ben Gibbard in Manila, 2012

The line to get inside the NBC Tent last Monday night for the Death Cab For Cutie show was so long it snaked past the 7th Avenue curb all the way down 26th Avenue. It moved so slowly a jogger completed three laps around the perimeter of the venue before I finally saw the main entrance.

The wait was well worth it, though. I have been to a lot of concerts over the years but the first Manila show of the Seattle, Washington-based indie rock band was by far one of the best in recent memory. It was an example of how different elements of a live stage show—lights, acoustics, band, audience—could come together to deliver a first-class concert experience that I suspect will be long-remembered by those who were there.

My first and only gripe about the show was that the opening act, local rock outfit Never The Strangers, started playing when a significant number of attendees were still in line outside. I’m not sure how that happened, but organizers should have anticipated the sheer number of people who came out and either opened the doors earlier or waited till everyone got in. Still, it’s a small grievance about the production that was otherwise perfect from start to finish. (Besides, people were really there for DCFC, natch).

At around 8:40, the lights came down inside the packed NBC Tent (I’ve seen a few shows here and this is the most full I’ve seen it). The familiar screams of anticipation rose to deafening levels when vocalist Ben Gibbard appeared onstage. Seconds after the recognizable opening guitar strains of “A Lack of Color” carried clearly and confidently through a crystal clear sound system, a swell of whoops and shrieks threatened to drown the frontman out. Not 30 minutes earlier I was wondering if they would play the song, one of my personal favorites, and suddenly, there he was, singing it as well as he does on record. It was as if Gibbard knew, and as if he was singing it to me, personally. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

The poster for the first DCFC show in Manila
The band, composed of Nick Harmer, Chris Walla, Jason McGerr and Gibbard, segued seamlessly into “I Will Possess Your Heart,” one of their biggest hits. The long bass intro thumped and throbbed and sent the audience into a frenzy. Gibbard moved around the stage a lot. In his collared button-down shirt tucked into slim fit jeans and his dark brown hair that swept across his forehead, the frontman looked like your average comic book store geek. The band played nonstop like an LP; after one song they launched right into the next. “Hello Manila,” Gibbard finally said about four songs in. “We are in your lovely city because we have a new record out, it’s called ‘Codes and Keys.’” They played a good mix of material from the current and older releases, including “We Laugh Indoors,” “Photobooth,” Doors Unlocked and Open,” “You Are A Tourist,” and “Long Division.”

The crowd went wild when the band started on “What Sarah Said,” a plaintive song about waiting for someone to die. “So who’s gonna watch you die?” Gibbard wailed. It’s simple, extraordinary refrains like this—coupled with the frontman’s high-pitched, emotionally charged singing—that elevates Death Cab from other, run-of-the-mill bands.

During the long, two-hour set, the band carried the crowd to peaks of ecstasy, brought them down to valleys of sobriety and plunged them to the depths of sorrow and nostalgia. Throughout the show, Gibbard was bathed in pink, blue and white lights, enhancing the overall mood. The song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” starts with the line, “Love of mine/ someday you will die/ but I’ll be close behind.” The songs may be mournful, but a sliver of hope always shines through. Even the dance-y, energetic “When Soul Meets Body” and the thoughtful “Cath…” bear this DCFC signature.

There was a long, extended instrumental jam towards the end of “We Looked Like Giants,” when Gibbard showed off his drumming skill, but it was when they transitioned flawlessly into “The Sound of Settling,” that the crowd just about lost it. That chorus of “Pa pa/ This is the sound of settling/ Pa pa/ Pa paaa…,” with a tent-ful of fans singing along, must’ve been heard outside the venue and halfway around the world. After the main set, the band came back for four more songs, which included “Home Is A Fire,” “Meet Me On The Equinox” (from the OST of “Twilight Saga: New Moon”), “A Movie Script Ending,” and the big finish, “Transatlanticism.”

Nick Harmer, Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla and Jason McGerr. Walla has since left the band and has been replaced by touring members Dave Depper and Zac Rae
“On behalf of my bandmates,” Gibbard said, “I have to apologize. This is the first time we’re in Manila. If we’d have only known you guys would be this awesome we would’ve come a lot sooner.” Expectedly, the crowd screamed their approval and I nearly went deaf. “I have a feeling this is the first day of a long and beautiful friendship,” he added. 

Somehow, onstage and in songs, the sensitive singer-songwriter always seems to know what to say. Funny that this is the first time Manila and Death Cab For Cutie have met and already the relationship feels familiar and fun. We can only hope it won’t take long before we welcome our old friends back.

Death Cab For Cutie will headline this year's Wanderland Music Festival, happening this Saturday, March 5, 2016 at the Circuit Grounds, Makati. Doors open at 12nn. For more information, visit <>

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